Filtering by Category: Student Life

By What We Give

What sets SMU apart as a “Different U”?

Ask around and you’ll hear the usual answers about our different approach to academics and co-curricular activities — but to me, what truly sets our college experience apart is how every graduate gives back to our community.

Because every SMU student has to serve 80 hours of community service before graduation, it’s easy to think of it as a chore (as I did at first!) — yet, students from the Class of 2014 completed 140 hours of service each: a clear sign that students aren’t just serving the community in order to meet some quota. And as one of those students, I’ve come to understand that that’s because community service gives back to you as much as you do.

Project Namaste VII

My journey of service began with Project Namaste VII in 2012. Running a different initiative every year since 2006, Project Namaste (http://www.projectnamaste.com) aims to benefit the villagers of Nepal. For our 7th trip, we worked together with teachers and tutored students in English to improve the way children were educated.

By introducing alternative ways to teach English besides rote learning (a method deeply ingrained in Nepalese culture) we trained the teachers of the community there to engage their students so they could learn more effectively.

Seeing how our programme changed the community for the better, the warmth with which the Nepalese embraced us; the joy with which they led their lives, in spite of the lack of the modern comforts and conveniences we took for granted—these experiences changed me profoundly.

The Project Namaste VII team

And so, though Project Namaste VII was a success, I found myself returning to two questions: would our changes last? And was it our Nepalese partners, or us, who benefitted the most from Project Namaste?

I remained unsatisfied.

We concluded the project with a sense that everything we had experienced, that everything we had learned, was as valuable to us as—or even more so than—what we had given back to them. Could this really be considered as community service? Furthermore, I felt that we could have done even more for our Nepalese partners.

I had originally planned to go to Nepal only once, then focus on my academics and career upon my return. But my thoughts, questions, and experiences there led me to different priorities. I wanted to shape a better project for our partners, and guide a new group to share my journey of self-discovery: and so I stepped up to lead Project Namaste VIII.

Project Namaste VIII

The leaders of Project Namaste VIII!

Though I joined Project Namaste VIII with a clear idea of how I wanted it to look like, that quickly changed. Our partner school in Nepal had just entered the 4th year into their 5-year vision, with technology capability remaining as one of the outstanding goals they had yet to achieve, so my fellow leaders proposed to re-design our programme to directly address this need—a decision I initially opposed.

Over the course of several days, however, they convinced me of the need for this change, as they were confident that it was essential in order to build a more robust programme for our Nepalese partners.

And because of their conviction, we did.

Donating laptops to the school and organising introductory lessons to basic Microsoft software for local teachers, Project Namaste VIII marked a departure from Project Namaste’s historical focus on education towards implementing technological solutions. This paid off remarkably well, with the teachers displaying unprecedented levels of enthusiasm and engagement during these sessions.

Learning Points

My key learning takeaway from leading Project Namaste VIII? Community service isn’t about going in with a preconceived notion of what we think the community needs.

Rather than giving something your partners don’t want or need because you think it’s the ‘best’ solution, we only serve the community when we listening to our partners, understand their needs, and build effective solutions for their unique sociocultural and economic context.

As a leader, I also learnt that you have to loosen your control to let those under you grow. From our experience in Project Namaste VII, my fellow project leaders and I had our own sense of what was the best way to organise the project: so giving more ownership of the project was possibly one of the hardest things to do, because it meant losing elements of control.

However, this decision proved to grow the maturity of our members, as taking responsibility for different aspects of the project led them to a greater appreciation of the meaningfulness of Project Namaste, and the privileges they enjoyed back home.

Community service: it’s about helping those who work with you grow too.

When we commit to understanding our partner communities, community service benefits not just them, but also the volunteers and leaders, too.

Winston Churchill said that “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.

Your 80 hours can make a tremendous difference. Make them make lives.


A Different U

It seemed not too long ago that I was a prospective undergraduate, ‘A’-Level results in hand, staring at another of SMU’s brochures. Cheery colors. Pictures of happy undergraduates. “Discover A Different U”, it said.

I had my doubts. I remember thinking: “How different would I really be?”

Impressed by how uniquely different SMU students presented themselves during SMU Open House, I selected SMU as my university of choice. While it surprised all my family and friends at that time, that decision turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made and one that I have never regretted. Despite all my initial reservations, the brochure was undeniably right about one thing: SMU is truly a Different University. 

Celebratory Dinner and Drinks after Summer Internships!

The first way in which SMU proved to be different: Class participation. Or as it’s colloquially known to all SMU students, “class part”. Personally, it was first a source of immense frustration. Coming from a junior college where there was less interaction between students and their lecturers, I struggled to speak up during my early semesters in SMU.

Despite my initial hesitance, engaging professors and classmates in dialogue soon proved to be far more interesting than simply sitting in class and trying (unsuccessfully) to stay awake! Doing so added another dimension to my classroom learning experience – I learnt not just from my professors, but from my classmates too. 

Getting used to challenging opinions, assumptions and ideas, and having my own challenged, encouraged me to get comfortable with speaking up in class – and outside of class as well! Class participation has value-added to my learning experiences, and steadily built up my confidence. As a result, I’ve since warmed up to the idea of “class part-ing” as I begin my 3rd year in SMU.

The second? Project work. Putting academic theories to practical use in the real world made them relevant (and more palatable). It challenged me to work on my ability to manage people, delegate, write concise reports, present to large audiences, and (perhaps my biggest takeaway) manage my time well! With a minimum of four projects within each semester of 13 weeks, I quickly learnt to get my priorities right and manage my time carefully, lest I miss out on any of my deadlines.

Although learning these hard and soft skills wasn’t always easy, they gave me an invaluable advantage during my internship. Going through an internship was just like completing one massive project, and even more: I was required to work on multiple projects during the course of my 10-week internship. This was where the rigour of the SMU curriculum proved sufficient in preparing me to navigate through all of them with relative ease.

Finally, what sets SMU apart is the everyday sight of SMU students studying on campus wherever chairs, tables and power outlets can be found! Some consider this to merely be a symptom of an over-competitive culture; but what I’ve found is that SMU students are motivated more by an intense internal drive for personal excellence, rather than the competitive pressure from their peers. but.

The SMU culture is about competition; not so much against others but against yourself. It challenges you to be better than you were yesterday, every day. Seeing so many of my peers working hard to achieve their various academic, career and personal goals compelled me to do the same! What initially originated from a fear of losing out evolved over time into a determination to work hard consistently. Consequently, my time in SMU instilled a sense of self-discipline that had been sorely lacking in my teenage years.

End-of-Summer Dinner with the Ambassadors!

All that said, SMU’s not all about academics and work either – amidst all the hustle and bustle of campus life, I found that it was equally important to strike a balance between work and play. I’ve been fortunate enough to forge a diverse, yet close-knit group of friends over the course of my four semesters in school. As one another’s cheerleaders, confidantes, and taskmasters, they remind me that university’s not simply about preparing for life after graduation, but about living it to the fullest!

How different am I? Two years and a myriad of learning experiences later, I know – with absolute certainty – what my answer is. I’ve become more outspoken, disciplined, and motivated. I’ve developed a side of myself that I never knew I had. I am, quite simply, a very different me – and I owe that much to a Different U.

asmu@sa.smu.edu.sg

© 2018 SMU Ambassadorial Corps